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Misdiagnosed, but fighting on

Michelle Dykstra, right, with her husband Chris Peterson and sister Anita Dykstra. Michelle is holding the fundraising colouring-in book. PHOTO/EMILY IRELAND

Artist’s book a fundraiser for cancer treatment

Emily Ireland

Masterton artist Michelle Dykstra is a fighter.

In January this year she was diagnosed with terminal cancer – invasive ductile carcinoma and inflammatory breast cancer – after earlier being misdiagnosed with plasma cell mastitis.

She was given a few months to live without treatment, or to the end of the year with chemotherapy and radiation.

She chose neither option – opting instead to travel to Thailand for integrated cancer treatment not offered in New Zealand.

She and her family hoped this would give her the best chance to live out her life as healthily and as pain-free as possible.

The treatment, offered by Verita Life Thailand incorporates low-dose chemotherapy enhanced by hormone, biological treatment, viral immune therapy, and herbal medicine, among other therapy.

But it has come at a high financial cost.

Michelle has returned from her second treatment trip and has been overwhelmed by the support the Wairarapa community has offered – more than $7000 has been raised for her treatment through a page on Givealittle.

But the most special act of support has been from the Masterton Fire Service, where her husband Chris Peterson is employed as a career firefighter.

The fire station has collated a colouring-in book of Michelle’s artwork to sell in order to raise funds for her treatment.

This project has been led by firefighter Jodie Kjestrup with help from Printcraft + Design Hive in Masterton.

The book is being sold at Hedley’s Bookshop, Paper Plus, ConArt, and the Wairarapa Times-Age for $20 (cash only if buying from the Times-Age).

At the moment, Michelle does not know what her prognosis is after the second round of her treatment in Thailand.

“It’s an incredibly aggressive cancer and it doesn’t muck around,” she said.

“All I know is how I feel coming back.

“When I went over this last time I was having to have morphine to get over there, and once the treatment started, I could come off it again.”

Michelle, who grew up in Carterton, is a self-taught artist.

She moved back to Wairarapa nine years ago, which is when she began exploring her love of large-scale paintings.

This freedom to explore her passions on a large scale didn’t last long however, when Michelle was diagnosed with fibromyalgia – a chronic pain disorder.

She used a walking stick most days and was forced to find another way to express her creativity.

This came in the form of drawing mandalas – a complex abstract design that is usually circular in form.

It is this type of artwork that features in the colouring-in book the Masterton Fire Service has collated.

“Firstly, a huge thank you to the Masterton Fire Service, Printcraft, ConArt, and everyone who has donated to the Givealittle page, and is supporting us,” Michelle said.

“Secondly, in terms of advice for anyone else going through a similar situation, don’t get railroaded into things you don’t want to do, research and explore all options and listen to your intuition about what’s right for you.”

Michelle said she tries every day to stay as positive as she can.

“You don’t want to think too far into the future because that just freaks you out because you don’t know what’s coming.

“I just focus on getting through each day, just trying to stay as positive as possible.

“Every time I feel negative or start feeling completely hopeless I actually end up with more problems.

“Stay as calm as possible. Once the initial freakout happens, it’s about finding ways to bring more calm into your life.

“There are days where I feel like, this is it . . . this is the end.

“But you have to remember that the down times don’t last forever.

“And even though all of this is happening and it might have a bad outcome, there’s still good in your life, and still good people in your life.

“You can always find something to make you smile if you look hard enough.”

Michelle said her treatment at Verita Life Thailand had improved her energy levels and had cured her fibromyalgia.

ACC and the Health and Disability Commission are investigating Michelle’s misdiagnosis.

This process involves the Hutt Valley District Health Board and the Wairarapa District Health Board.


  1. Sadly women are misdiagnosed all the time with Inflammatory Breast Cancer (all over the world). Doctors are badly in need of education, that women (and some men) who have ‘early’ symptoms, can easily find on the internet. The lack of education is costing lives, and has to stop.
    Praying the treatments in Thailand work.

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